Monday, July 12, 2010

May: If You Can't Find a Friend, Make One

May is one of those movies I feel that no one likes as much as I do. Well, me and Roger Ebert. He was the one who saw it at a festival, championed it, and made sure it received some sort of distribution. The New York Times dismissed it by calling it an ordinary slasher flick which left me wondering if Stephen Holden even bothered to watch it. It's a strange, modern, Frankenstein tale full of desperate need, not a slasher flick at all. I think of it more as a romantic comedy that goes horribly, terribly awry. As I am not a real journalist, this is going to be yet another listicle - this time enumerating the things I like about my Favorite Modern Horror Movie.

1. At the top of my list is the cinematography. This is a low budget indie horror movie made on a shoe-string and it's just gorgeous. The interiors inside of May's apartment are lit so beautifully, it looks like a Rennaissance painting - deep shadows and tones. The DP's name is Steve Yedlin.

2. May's only friend at the top of the film - her doll, Suzy. It looks a little like one of the dolls Dame Darcy makes, but isn't. All she does is talk to her doll, go to work, and sew - clothes for herself and her dolls. Partway through the film one realizes that May believes the doll is talking back - likely in the voice of her mother. This manages to be subtle, disturbing and sad.

3. The movie begins as if it's a strange, quirky romantic comedy. It made me think about the behavior of most heroines of regular romantic comedies an how other people would react to their odd behavior, if they too, were not stuck in a romantic comedy. I think it might be something like this. The object of the strange, solitary May's unfortunate affections is Adam, played by Jeremy Sisto. He's a film student who works as a car mechanic. She, like that other homicidal loner, Dr. Horrible, quasi-stalks her crush object at the local laundromat and engages in awkward conversation. All the scenes between May and Adam are priceless. He's a horror movie aficionado with all kinds of Dario Argento paraphernalia in his apartment who claims to like the weird and dark. But he is just a sane guy who likes horror movies. So when he is presented with actual, real life strange and dark he is rightfully disturbed and runs screaming for the exit.

4. The whole thing takes place in normal Los Angeles. The characters live in normal apartments that young people could afford. May works in a veterinary hospital for a doctor with an incomprehensible accent. The characters go to the laundromat and eat deli sandwiches in the park during their lunch breaks.

5. Their first date ends when Adam kisses May and makes a thoughtless comment about it seeming like she's never kissed anyone before. Of course, she hasn't, so she freaks out and runs away. On their (ill-considered) second date, Adam shows May one of his student films. This is one of the best scenes ever. First of all, it's completely believable as a student short. It's about three minutes long, in black and white, and shows a young couple on a picnic who wind up cannibalizing each other. May sits happily on the couch watching, and then scrunches closer to Adam as the mayhem starts. When he asks her how she liked it, she says, "It was sweet." The brilliance is, the short film is charming enough, that this isn't a completely crazy response (i.e. the couple remains happy as they literally devour each other, it has a goofy score, etc.). So, Adam doesn't seem like a moron for being okay with this. And then, when he presses her for some criticism (as one does), she says, "I don't think that she could have gotten his whole finger in one bite, though. That part was kind of far-fetched." He looks slightly disconcerted.

6. Lots of Breeders songs are used on the soundtrack early in the film. I mean, who doesn't like Kim Deal. And this adds to the quirky romantic comedy feeling at the beginning.

7. A dark haired, pre-surgery Anna Faris is May's co-worker at the clinic. Faris thoughtlessly seduces May, then dizzily turns her attentions to a classic mean girl. May's apparent bisexuality is not presented pruriently. It's really clear that May is so desperate for some kind of human connection that gender really isn't a huge issue.

8. Angela Bettis is really terrific. She's been kind of typecast, playing Carrie in the remake, and playing mental patients in both Girl, Interrupted and on House.

9. It's such a sad story. May's descent into madness is triggered by a simple, happy event: she gets contact lenses that replace the glasses she has been hiding behind since she was a child. It's this that gives her the tiny amount of confidence required to start talking to Adam. At first, it looks as if a new, more integrated world will be opened up for her. Instead, it just leads to horrible disappointments.

10. It's a real, old fashioned, psychological horror movie. It's not torture porn or a dead teenager movie. May is both Victor Frankenstein and the monster. You feel sorry for her and want things to work out for her. And you feel badly for her victims, too, as their only crime is the typical thoughtlessness and casualness of the times we live in. There's a nice little scene late in the movie where Adam sees May in the park reading (an anatomy text), and he tries to be kind to her, but she is too far gone. But, like I said about Ginger Snaps - May is a real horror movie. It's beautifully and intelligently made, but there is A LOT of blood and violence. There is a particularly upsetting scene in a school for blind children (FYI - May doesn't do anything bad to the kids, there's just a lot of broken glass and it's very upsetting for everyone. Lesson learned: if your best friend is a small, fragile doll encased in glass, don't hand her over to a class of blind children. It will all end in tears.). And as indicated, she tries to make a friend. Out of parts. If you don't want to see this, this is not the movie for you.

11. The opening shot. See below:

This is the third in my favorite films of the Aughts series.


miconian said...

Huh. This sounds awesome. I'm going to look for it.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

God love Roger Ebert---from Evil Dead to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer to May, he has been the #1 champion of low-budget interesting horror movies for freakin' decades.

Caviglia said...

I'm really beginning to feel inspired to write (another) low-budget interesting horror movie.

... said...

I'm bit late on response but have to say I LOVE this movie! I watched it like billion times! It's drama, comedy, horror, thriller all in one! Same as Ginger snaps! I'm looking for that third movie you mentioned (The Royal Tenenbaums ) as we speak! Hope it will be good as these two :)

Vegan/Megan said...

I Love May - I've been wanting to make a costume like her doll's, and I think this Halloween will be perfect! I'm going to borrow a cooler from my friend to make it complete ;)